We normally think of prophets as being Old Testament characters. The New Testament acknowledges prophets and even names a few. Agabus gives us a rare chance to see one in action.
The Bible mentions Agabus only twice. In Acts 11:27-30, he shows up at the church in Antioch to predict a severe worldwide famine. In Acts 21:8-14 he accosts Paul on his way to Jerusalem to say he would be bound there and handed to Gentiles. Luke apparently didn’t expect his readers to remember Agabus by that time, so he introduced him all over again.
Once the frenzy of Christmas shopping and all the returns have finished, stores and most of society turn away from Christmas to the next big thing. But the Christmas season in the church calendar goes on for a couple of weeks. In this time after Christmas, it seems especially important to look at what else happened in Jesus’ life shortly after his birth. Matthew’s account of the flight to Egypt cites three prophecies that especially deserve attention.
When Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the temple, they encountered a prophet named Simeon. We normally think of Simeon closer to Christmas. After all, that’s the season when we pay special attention to the birth of Jesus. But Simeon’s message makes sense to us only in the light of Easter.
By the Holy Spirit, Simeon knew that he held the long-awaited Messiah in his arms. He knew that this child would grow up to accomplish his mission in the face of fierce opposition. And he knew that Jesus’ ministry would inflict great sorrow on his mother. But Jesus would accomplish what God intended.… Read the rest
In a stable in Bethlehem, Mary had a baby. She was certainly neither the first or last woman to deliver a child under less than ideal conditions. But she had an ordinary childbirth experience after an ordinary pregnancy.
She delivered no ordinary child. Mary conceived Jesus while she was still a virgin, a miracle that has happened exactly once. Angels announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds, who rushed to Bethlehem to see him.
The ordinary and the extraordinary persisted side by side throughout Jesus’ life. Luke’s gospel records both a week following his birth.
Zechariah’s song (known as the Benedictus) doesn’t get nearly the attention as Mary’s (the Magnificat) earlier in the chapter, but it is the first recorded prophetic word since the Book of Malachi some 400 years earlier.
Its outpouring of praise culminates a long life of both piety and disappointment. After years of waiting and hoping, Zechariah, an aging priest, drew the lot for the once-in-a-lifetime assignment of burning incense in the temple. The angel Gabriel appeared to him and said his prayer was answered.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were childless, but one would hardly expect a pious priest to use an occasion of such great honor to pray for personal needs.… Read the rest
God wants his people to prosper. That hardly means that he will not allow them, or rather compel them to go through times of trial in which prosperity seems impossible. We have to put aside our human idea of prosperity and let God define it for us.
Jeremiah proclaimed the message of divine prosperity even in calamity in a letter to the Jews in Babylon, that is, to victims of a recent national catastrophe. The invading Babylonian army had taken King Jeconiah, his mother, all of his court officials, and all of the skilled craftsmen and artisans in Jerusalem as captives back to Babylon.… Read the rest
Isaiah 40 may be one of the best-known passage among all the Old Testament prophets. Anyone who knows Handel’s Messiah will immediately recognize the text for some of the familiar pieces. “Comfort ye my people” and “Every valley shall be exalted” (the first tenor recitative and aria), “And the glory of the Lord,” (the first chorus), “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion” (the first alto aria, (with chorus), and “He shall feed his flock” (the second alto aria) all come from first eleven verses of the chapter:
We associate these verses with the Christmas story at least because John the Baptist claimed to be the “voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,” words quoted in the tenor recitative.… Read the rest